Today is St George’s Day. As most people in Britain know, St George is the Patron Saint of England and his flag is also the national flag of England. But George isn’t the exclusive preserve of the English. As a patron saint, he’s rather popular all over Christendom – Georgia (the name’s just a coincidence), Portugal, Malta, Ethiopia and plenty of cities and regions. His status as a soldier saint (rather a contradiction in terms, I would have thought) may explain his popularity. Everyone loves a dashing hero, especially one that goes around slaying dragons and rescuing maidens. Of course, George wasn’t English either. He was born in Roman Judea and his father came from Cappadocia in present day Turkey.
George rose in the ranks to become a member of the Emperor Diocletian’s personal bodyguard but came a cropper when he refused to renounce his faith. George was rather handy with his fists and the Emperor virtually begged him to drop the whole Christian thing (or at least keep quiet about it) but mouthy George wasn’t having it. He was martyred in AD 303, enduring a slow and horrible death.
I’m not much into the trappings of nationalism, though I am quietly patriotic. I have written before that it’s fine to be proud of where you are from, it’s not fine to think you’re a cut above the rest. The English Defence League (EDL) and other right-right nutters have rather hijacked and debased the symbols of English nationhood. Consequently, people like me wouldn’t dream of waving the Flag of St George in the same way that the Irish, Scots and Welsh proudly display their own national emblems.
I’m hoping the EDL thugs will eventually slide back to the bottom of the pond. Their travelling circus of clowns is looking increasingly thin and desperate. I really can’t take seriously those who think that The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the pleasure palace built in oriental style for George IV, is a huge mosque. Oh, the irony. The best way to counter the idiotic is with ridicule because the EDL is ridiculous.
One of our greatest regrets during our time in the Land of the Sunrise is not taking the time to visit magical Cappadocia. I can offer no satisfactory excuse. We just didn’t do it. I give you some images to tickle the taste buds and stir the wanderlust.
We were reminded of our failing by Pansyfan Bonnie. She sent me this fascinating Turkish film of Göreme from 1962, courtesy of Turkey Central. This is Göreme only 50 years ago, yet it could be from the time of Abraham – no camera-toting tourists, no swish cave hotels, no restored Disney murals, no over-blown restaurants, no hot air balloons, no hot air hawkers. From biblical to boutique. I have no words.
I’ve been scribbling like a lunatic getting the message out about the book. The days when an author just sits back and lets someone else do all the PR and promotion are long gone. Sometimes, though, things just happen without any intervention from me. Pat Yale is an extremely respected British vetpat travel writer living in Cappadocia. You could say she put the pat in expat. Pat wrote A Handbook for Living in Turkey which is the definitive guide for moving to and living in our fosterland. Pat also writes a Turkey travel blog called Turkey from the Inside. Liam stumbled across the page about Yalıkavak. This is the introduction:
On the northwest side of the Bodrum Peninsula, pretty Yalıkavak centres on a harbourful of gülets but also boasts several inviting getaway-from-it-all boutique hotels up on the hillside. It served as the setting for Jack Scott’s 2012 travel memoir Perking the Pansies which dished the dirt on goings-on in the expat community.
Today’s guest is gorgeous Kym who is the author of Turkeywithstuffin’s Blog and the pretty brain behind On the Ege, the monthly online magazine about Turkey’s Aegean coast. Kym is married to dusky Murat, her hunky Turk. When veteran expat Kym wears a headscarf, she wants to look like Sophia Loren but thinks she looks more like Hilda Ogden. Personally, I think she resembles a darker version of Gynneth Paltrow in the Talented Mr Ripley.
It’s a Thursday in November 2008 and I am on my first road trip to Sanliurfa, my husband’s birth town. When we first arrived in Urfa late at night, the electricity was off and the city was in darkness. Perhaps because I was tired from the long journey, I felt uneasy and had commented more than once that I’d been kidnapped and taken to Beirut. I did for a moment consider taken a plane home the following day. As we stood in the dark alley I was moaning, but once the large iron gate opened things could not have looked more different. We walked into a beautiful stone courtyard with mosaic tiles, Ottoman seating, potted plants and a small fountain.
The Manager at the Beyzade Konak Hotel is Murat’s cousin’s husband, Omer. He shows us to our room and once I have the internet and some coffee (they have a generator), I’m quite happy to chuck Murat out for an hour or so to allow him to play with his cousin Mehmet. I have a boiling hot shower, get my pajamas on and send a few quick “I’ve landed” emails. Then it’s lights out and a sleep so deep I could be in the cemetery.
Day breaks and I realise the hotel is between two mosques. I open my eyes to the dual call to prayer, one a heartbeat behind the other. I doze for a bit then remember I’m actually on holiday and there are shops out there.
After breakfast, I nip back to our room and cover my locks with a headscarf. It’s a simple gesture of respect while I’m here and among the more traditional rellies. Well, that and I don’t really want to get stoned in the street! Mu of course thinks this is great and off we trot, out through the iron gate and onto the streets of Sanliurfa.
Once we leave the cobbled alley and get onto the main drag, its bustling; busses hog the road, cars fight for space beside them, scooters weave in and out of the traffic and pedestrians narrowly avoid being run over. The air is filled with BBQ spices, pungent & smoky and the smell is everywhere. Small eateries and kebab houses jostle for space alongside clothes shops and jewelers who have 24 karat rays shining from their windows.
There are a few glances my way naturally. It could be the pale skin and the green eyes, or it could be the flip flops and bright red toenails that don’t quite go with the rest of my ensemble. Still, that’s a great excuse to buy shoes isn’t it?
First things first, I need a new camera. We wander across to the maze of connecting alleyways that make up one of the eight covered bazars, to the collection of electronic shops. The salesman shows us his wares and converses with Murat: “Senin Esin mı?”(your wife), “Yabanci” (a foreigner), “Alman?” (German). Mu confirms the first two and I answer the last. “English” I say, not realising at the time that we will have this conversation many times during our stay. I guess it’s due to my height and build and of course, my great Grandparents, Mr & Mrs Shram!
I end up with an Olympus, a compact professional the man says. We will see.
Leaving the shop we are met by Cousin Mehmet and Hassan Amca. Their first words to me are “Kym, Beirut Nasil?” Very funny! The four of us then continue around the bazaar which contains a veritable Aladdin’s Cave full of treasure. There is even a street full of workshops where workmen batter copper and solder iron.
Heading into the Balikigol area toward the cay bache, we pass through the ‘Sipahi Bazar’ and the ‘Kazzaz Bazaar’, the oldest covered Bazaars of Urfa. These were built by the Ottoman Emperor, Suleiman the Magnificent in 1562. It really is like stepping back in time and I watch ancient shalvar wearing salesmen sitting cross legged in their little tented alcoves, bathed in rich colour and drinking tea while customers peruse their antique carpets, kilims and hand woven head dresses.
During our small shopping excursion, I’d picked up some elastic hair bands that I needed and watched as three pairs of hands reach into theirpockets to pay for them. Oooooo I like shopping here. I wonder if it works in shoe shops? A few minutes’ walk and we reach the cave of Abraham. Legend has it that the Babylonian King, Nemrud, had Abraham captured and thrown into fire. His crime? Calling upon the people to worship the real god and not the icons of celestial objects, as was the religion of the time. Of course, God was watching and on seeing this, he turned the fire into water, saving Abraham from certain death. Not content with that, he then turned the surrounding woods into the sacred fish, the ancestors of which we see today at the site of the “Halil ur Rahmen” Mosque in the centre of Urfa.
I buy a dish of fish pellets and watch the fat feisty fish fight each other for each tiny morsel, after which we take a rest in the cay bachesi. I sit sipping hot sweet tea and take a look at my photos so far. The photos are amazing; sneaky zoom shots of men at prayer and performing the abtest, plus the usual tourist shots of minarets and domes. It’s getting late now and as dusk settles over the city, we head back to the hotel.
So far so good, my first day in Urfa was wonderful and I am hungry for more. We have decided to use Urfa as a base for a few road trips. On my list are: Harran, Nemrut, and Hasenkeyf, then, a stop at Cappadocia on the way home. I had no idea at the time but this journey would also encompass, Mardin, Midyat, Batman & Siirt. My Anatolian adventure continues.
Today’s post is hot off the press from Kirazli Karyn at Being Koy, veteran jobbing blogger and top drawer freelance writer. When I say veteran I mean prolific not aged. Karyn is a mere slip of a girl. She normally writes passionately and evocatively about her Turkish village idyll. It’s all true. We’ve seen it with our own eyes. Today she vents her spleen at the travel guide industry.
One of my friends visited Cirali recently, I suggested it, I thought he would find the ruins slowly collapsing into the forest beautiful, the tree houses were his sort of thing and as far as I was concerned seeing the flames of the Cimera on Mount Olympos was one of those big “things to see in Turkey”. Turns out I was right, he loved it; he loved the whole hippy vibe, sitting around a campfire jamming on a battered guitar, swimming in the dramatic coves and camping in the trees by the side of a dirt road to the beach. It was indeed, just his thing, but he got a bit nervous on the way there.
On the bus from Konya to Goreme to explore Cappadocia before heading down to the coast he hooked up with some Japanese travellers, none of whom were going on to Cirali, in fact they’d never heard of it. It turns out this is because it wasn’t in their guide books and if it isn’t in the guide book, specifically in your demographically tailored, distinctively marketed guidebook, it doesn’t exist.
Some locations that used to be popular have disappeared from the guidebooks altogether despite the fact that they are beautiful and interesting and unique and others have appeared for no better reason than they are considered “off the beaten track” by some gung ho backpacking writer who has cottoned on to the fact that being a reviewer for some obscure guidebook is a glamorous sounding job and gets you laid more often than pretending to be a BA pilot and part time dolphin trainer. This makes up for being paid a pittance to go to shit places and eat rubbish food and pretend they’re great.
These days there are guidebooks for everywhere and every type of travel and traveller and if these were not enough now the guidebooks are supplemented by websites and forums and even apps for your phone, so the brave voyager need never again make an uninformed decision during the whole of their adventurous trek – that’s really character building. Places once considered off the beaten track are now, as a result, definitely middle of the well trodden road. If Leonardo de Caprio now jumped off that waterfall to find The Beach he’d have to push aside 200 tourists tweeting about their experience on their iPhones before he could surge into the water in a sexy and manly way.
This year my little village Kirazli made it into Lonely Planet, it gets mentioned as worth a visit, and the little paragraph about it bigs up a restaurant that is at best, mediocre. It used to be good, five years ago, it is now ok. I can think of three other restaurants in the village that are better and cheaper and have nicer staff. So basically this village gets mentioned for something it isn’t very good at and all the things it is really good at don’t get mentioned at all. This is typical of guide books really and is why they should be treated as a jumping off point for your journey, not a step by step instruction manual. Sometimes they’re wrong and sometimes you just need to turn off your iPhone, talk to a real person on the same road as you or take an unplanned turning, because getting off the beaten track is actually a state of mind not a place you struggle to and you can do it with a single step or a single conversation, you can’t do it with a multi million selling guidebook, that’s a contradiction in terms.